If Tiz The Law is almost even money at Circa Sports and odds-on pretty much everywhere else in the world, does that mean he is certain to carry that short a price at post time in the Kentucky Derby?
No, no, a thousand times no. It goes to the basic difference between parimutuel and fixed odds — and the cost of doing the business of booking horses.
Nothing illustrates liability for a racebook more than a long-term favorite that will not let go of that position in the betting. When Nadal was injured and retired in late May, Tiz The Law became the undisputed favorite for the Derby, and he has not budged. With victories in the Belmont and the Travers in the 2½ months since, he has attracted a steady stream of bets in Nevada and in foreign markets. That translates to a lot of exposure for bookmakers — and caricatured odds.
“Right now we have plenty of liability on Tiz,” Circa Sports risk supervisor Paul Zilm said. “A good majority of it is tied into cross-sport parlays, but the straight bets have started to come in within the last week.”
William Hill Nevada had the advantage of opening its futures in late October, so it has the cushion of all those losing bets it took when its list got close to 200 horses last winter. (I have at least nine of them.)
“We’re a small winner with him,” said Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading at William Hill, where Tiz The Law has not been longer than 3-1 since the Belmont. “We had it up first and wrote a lot of bets on the pool.”
At Churchill Downs, though, there will be zero liability in the booking of parimutuel bets on Derby day, when the odds will literally follow the money. If bettors have 19 other choices to consider, it stands to reason that Tiz The Law might be 8-5 or 7-5. But even money or odds-on? That seems highly unlikely when Churchill course horse Art Collector and the highly respected California shipper Honor A. P. are on the wagering menu.
Yes, I do hear the retort. What about this month’s parimutuel Kentucky Derby Future Wager? Didn’t Tiz The Law close at close to even money in that? He did, indeed. But the ingredients for that formula will have some glaring changes Sept. 5.
The other 19 choices will carry far more credibility — and money — than the 23 alternatives did this month. I mean, seriously. South Bend (127-1) and Shivaree (285-1) are not walking through that gate. And Rushie (188-1) might not be there either.
For another, bettors did not get a chance to consider Art Collector’s win in the Ellis Park Derby, which happened a half-hour after the KDFW closed. His 2-for-2 record this year at Churchill Downs is also bound to come into sharper focus, especially among the 23,000 fans who will be allowed into the track.
Finally, a total of $194,215 was in the final KDFW betting pool. Last year the all-sources handle for the Derby was $250,900,257, only 8% of which came from the 150,729 who were said to have been at the track that day. In a year when wagering totals on big race days are trending higher, it is hard to imagine that a futures pool with less than one-tenth of 1% of a typical Derby handle will be influential.
There are counterpoints. Throw out last year’s race — not for the Maximum Security disqualification but because KDFW and morning-line favorite Omaha Beach was scratched. In 2018 Justify was a 3-1 favorite in the parimutuel futures and also close to that at post time. But the year before McCraken closed 5-1 in the last KDFW, only to drift to a nearly 7-1 third choice on race day, when Always Dreaming was the 9-2 favorite. The futures are too inconsistent to be a bellwether.
What bettors should take from all this is that some late value still might exist in the Nevada futures. If Tiz The Law is an underlay at even money or shorter, there may be overlays with Art Collector (6-1 Circa, 4-1 William Hill) and Honor A. P. (plus-650, 7-1). The colts for five-time Derby winner Bob Baffert invited criticism with their prep performances. But the name “Baffert” always attracts public money, so Authentic (plus-980, 10-1) and Thousand Words (12-1, 12-1) might be worth a look sooner rather than later.
With 23 horses still listed at Circa and 19 at William Hill, credible options are available. There is even a “Will Tiz The Law lose the Kentucky Derby?” prop, priced at minus-135 at Circa.
“Since we do have a ‘No’ price, that has helped balance it out some,” Zilm said of Circa’s exposure. “But if the race was run today, I would definitely be rooting against Tiz The Law.”
Derby futures: Who’s hot?
Honor A. P. (13-2 Circa Sports, 7-1 William Hill). An old truism says a horse must finish first in its final prep if it is to win the Derby. But in the last 19 years, eight horses have lost that last race and still wound up wearing the roses. With the help of Maximum Security’s disqualification, 65-1 Country House did it just last year. So did 50-1 long shot Giacomo in 2005, a horse trained by John Shirreffs. Yes, the same John Shirreffs who looked after Honor A. P.’s runner-up finish in the Shared Belief Stakes. Conventional wisdom says the Santa Anita Derby winner needed more distance than the 8½ furlongs offered him this month at Del Mar. He will certainly get that next month at Churchill Downs.
Pneumatic (40-1, 60-1). When he won Saturday’s Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park, the Uncle Mo colt out of a Tapit dam got the points he needed to get into the Derby. His futures odds shortened accordingly at William Hill, where he had been 125-1. But connections said early this week that they were more likely to train him up to the Preakness, which at 9½ furlongs might be a better fit for this third-place finisher in the Belmont Stakes.
Storm The Court (80-1, 65-1). When trainer Peter Eurton confirmed that the 2019 juvenile champion was Derby-bound, this colt’s odds were cut from triple digits. But is this a good price for a horse that is still eligible for races limited to non-winners of more than two? Storm The Court was just a maiden winner when he scored his 45-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. There was an immediate overreaction; William Hill cut him to 12-1 to win the Derby. He has not won since, although he has looked more competitive recently, including a second-place finish on the turf 1½ weeks ago in the Grade 3 La Jolla Handicap. The Derby distance should help him, but will that 10th furlong really be the missing ingredient that ends a five-race losing streak?
Derby futures: Who’s not?
Dennis’ Moment, Garth and 45 other 3-year-olds. The laggards in Derby futures, London bookmakers, finally did some housecleaning. Even after they unloaded nearly four dozen slims-and-nones, they still have some horses listed that have no shot at seeing Churchill Downs unless the races are shown on big screens in their barns. It seems a thousand years ago when Dennis’ Moment was the co-favorite in the opening Derby futures at William Hill. It was a year ago when Garth was posted at 50-1 at Skybet, the first book that jumped into the Derby pool. The fact that both those horses have spent more time off the track than on this winless year is a cautionary tale for those who are eager to jump early into futures bets, especially at any price shorter than 100-1. Bear that in mind when the first horse is posted for the 2021 Kentucky Derby. It might be any day now.